Rioting and city takeovers in Seattle. Illness-causing bacteria. Unidentified flying objects that the FBI can’t explain. The loss of Sean Connery. Is this the next Hunger Games book? Unfortunately not: This is 2020, baby, and it’s been certified as the Worst Year Ever by not just critics, but any human who was strong enough to make it through to January. So if you’re reading this, congrats! You are one of those people!
As wild and crazy as the year was, we are on the other side of it. It’s a little scary since we still don’t know everything, but the world is slowly recovering…slowly, but still recovering. And the recovery process looks different for everybody. Some people are ready to jump back in feet first and get back to whatever normal we have created. Others are less eager and are feeling more apprehensive. After a year of uncertainty and standing on shaky ground, it’s unrealistic to assume that everybody has come out with no scars (whether mental or physical).
Stress and anxiety are real and they are terrifying. Anybody who has never experienced an episode of severe, ongoing anxiety simply can’t understand what it’s like. That gripping, white-hot panic, those ringing ears — it’s all too easy to slip into a panic attack if you don’t have a productive way to manage your worries. When you’re in the midst of a bad bout of anxiety, it’s hard to remember what brings you joy. While you take a breath and manage your heart rate, read our list of some of our favorite ways to reduce your overall stress.
1. Let the Games Begin
Humans are born with an innate need for entertainment. Even the ancient Egyptians played tic-tac-toe 3,000 years ago. If your stress levels are peaking, playing a good game is a fantastic way to distract your brain and get you focused on something other than your worries.
Online gaming is great for people who already enjoy playing video games. This can mean PC gaming, Xbox, or whatever platform you choose, but online games are immersive and interactive. They put you in character someplace else, giving you a different mindset and helping you to take out your mental stress. Some people prefer first-person shooter war games like Call of Duty, others prefer gentler simulation games like Animal Crossing. Maybe you fall somewhere in between. Whatever sorts of online games you enjoy playing, they can be an awesome tool for managing stress.
Don’t forget about board and card games, though! These are the OG interactive games. Turn to the classics like Clue, Sorry!, and poker, but don’t discount newer varieties like the Scene It! series, Family Business, and, if you’ve got a bawdy sense of humor, Cards Against Humanity. These are the kinds of games that surround you with people and laughter, and remember that laughter is the best medicine of all! Whatever you choose to play, make it a game that helps bring your stress down rather than the opposite.
2. Relax With Your Favorite Book
If you’re a bookworm, then you know that losing yourself in a cherished classic (world-renowned or personal) is a great stress-reducer. When you feel those levels reaching red alert, or even bright orange, turn to your bookshelf and pick up a book that you love.
It doesn’t matter what book you’re reading. As long as you’re reading something that helps you relax and tone down your stress, it’s the right book for you. Perhaps you love engineering manuals that show how intake manifolds work. Maybe stories about 18th century America are your jam. Turning the pages of Dr. Suess’s fantastic picture books takes everybody down memory lane. The point is, reading allows you to do something productive with your stress and, like gaming, puts you somewhere else for a time. While reading, you can be in another place, in another world.
Imagine the ultimate comfy scene: You’re chilling in an overstuffed chair in front of one of those grand modern contemporary fireplaces. There’s a cup of tea on a side table, you’re wrapped like a burrito in a quilt, and the weather outside sucks. Ahhhh, instant stress reliever just imagining that scene. Now, put yourself as close to it as you can and relax.
3. Soak It Up
Back to ancient Egypt: Did you know that Cleopatra loved herself a relaxing bath? The legend goes that she would have her servants bring in bucketfuls of warmed milk so that she could keep her skin ultra-soft. We are unsure how good that smelled, but then again, most of us aren’t royalty. Regardless, she knew what was up: A nice, relaxing soak can do wonders for the body and mind. Take cues from Queen Cleopatra by treating yourself to a relaxing bath.
Even if you don’t have a giant, luxurious bathtub, using your existing unit for its intended purpose can be something you didn’t realize you were missing in life. A tub full of warm, scented water and full of Epsom salts…sigh, it’s a beautiful thing. Take advantage of this everyday luxury as soon as you feel that stress start to build in your stomach. A hot bath can immediately relax your muscles, which can help your brain to calm down too.
If you’re lucky enough to own one, hot tubs are another effective way to reap the benefits of soaking in hot water. Jets and bubbles massage your muscles into relaxation even further, melting away the stress of the day. Hot tubs can also be great for large families or even small gatherings, letting everyone chill while hanging out and enjoying the atmosphere.
4. See How Green Your Thumb Is
By nature, we are wired to desire the outdoors and be with nature. Even if you’re a proud basement-dweller that prefers the company of your pets (which we don’t shame, pets are awesome), you still get a little thrill when you see the first spring sprouts popping up, or a streak of sunshine coming through the window on a cloudy day. The joys of nature are embedded into humankind, so it’s no surprise that so many people enjoy gardening. Starting a garden is a fantastic way to transform your stress into something productive, all while teaching you more about the earth and how to make her happier.
What’s that? You’re saying it: “But Writer, I don’t have the space for a garden!” That’s where you’re wrong! A garden to be sprouted anyplace that has steady access to the sun. This can be a shelf by a window, a pot on the porch, or a window box outside. Plants need two basic things to survive: Sun and water. As long as you give them access to both, then you have space to try your hand at gardening.
If you have never tried to start a garden before, now’s your golden opportunity! It’s almost planting season already, so dig your hands into the dirt and see what you come up with. You can purchase seeds from any flower shop or garden centers nearby — even your local grocery stores will be selling them soon enough. We recommend starting with small, easy-to-grow herbs first like parsley, basil, peppermint, and catnip. Not only are the germination rates fairly good on these, but they grow by the bush in the springtime and are delicious additions to cooking.
Another thing about gardening: the more you do it, the better you become at it. It seems so elementary, but it is so true. The more you work with the soil and get to know the plants, the better you will become at nurturing them over the years. It’s so helpful with managing stress because you’re watching something that you’ve worked with and struggled over for so long grow into a new life. Gardening is a therapeutic task on so many levels.
5. Get Your Blood Pumping
The doctor will endlessly tell you that exercise is a great stress-killer. It helps you to do something physical with all of your pent-up rage and worry, giving you a place to let out your frustration in a healthy way. Working out also helps to boost endorphins, which are the feel-good chemical that your brain puts out when you do something pleasant.
If you’re one of those people who hates to work out, you are not alone. Working out is a huge lifestyle change for some people, so it’s all about finding which activity you enjoy the most. Beyond lifting weights, wearing a compression sleeve, and the dreaded treadmill, some of our favorites are:
- Bicycle riding, whether that’s taking cruiser bikes along the beach with a friend or hopping on a dirt trail to commute to work. Biking is great for your circulation, your leg muscles, and your heart.
- Yoga. Depending on your skill level, yoga can be an incredibly beneficial full-body workout. A series of increasingly difficult stretches and poses help with your overall flexibility, and a hard workout gets your heart beating and your muscles working. The most difficult poses help with your core and get you stretched from the inside out.
- Self-defense classes. This can mean karate or other martial arts, but think also self-defense classes for women especially. These kinds of classes teach women how to fight off an attacker, techniques on being more self-aware, and what to do in case of being assaulted. More than just a workout, self-defense classes are also practical.
Working out is one of the best ways for managing stress that you can do. It takes your mind somewhere else, it physically exhausts you, and it keeps your body in great physical shape. Even if it’s not your favorite pastime, it’s still a good idea to find a physical activity that you enjoy doing. To help you manage when you’re starting to feel your anxiety worsening.
6. Just Keep Swimming
Owning a pool is the best of both worlds: In one, you have a luxury item that is the perfect place to relax and cool down. On the other, swimming is a fantastic workout and helps you get your blood pumping. Swimming is a win-win activity that can help you manage stress.
Swimming doesn’t only help with stress, though, it can also help with medical conditions too. Swimming can help people with gastrointestinal disorders prevent flare-ups and alleviate existing symptoms. It can ease tension on joints and muscles and help to strengthen them, and swimming is also amazingly therapeutic for people who suffer from arthritis and other conditions that affect their joints.
If you own a pool, then you likely already have a pool company come to service it every so often. Pool care professionals are essential when it comes to pool ownership because they keep it clean, chemically balanced, and overall safe for you to use. If you’d rather not hire a company and make it part of your wellness routine to manage the pool yourself, then that’s a technique as well. Ensure that your pool house is stocked with the necessary tools and equipment so that you can keep it in the best possible condition.
We all have stress in our lives. Whether you are recovering from last year’s trauma or are one of the 25% of Americans who say their job is their main source of stress, everybody has some battle they’re fighting. If high levels of anxiety are not something that you’re used to dealing with, take a moment to calm down and catch your breath. If you know how to manage your stress, then it’ll be less scary to deal with the next time you feel panicky.
Find something to help take your mind off of the things in life that you can’t control. Establishing a method to help manage chronic anxiety is a must. Making use of healthy outlets to help you keep your worries under control is a necessity, even if it’s something as simple as running a hot bath or picking up a book. We are living in uncertain times, and it’s scary. Finding ways to cope with that stress is the best way to keep your mind occupied.